The United States is ill-prepared for another large-scale terrorist attack like 9/11 because limited military resources are bogged down in a war in Iraq the U.S. cannot win, presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said on TODAY.
Obama's remarks come a day after the Pentagon released partially redacted transcripts of a secret military hearing in which accused terror mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was quoted as saying that he was responsible “A to Z” for planning the hijackings and intentional crashes of four passenger jets on Sept. 11, 2001.
Nearly 3,000 people died when 19 suicide hijackers slammed the planes into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania field.
“Obviously, just from the confession, we see the scope of the planning that was done by al-Qaida," Obama, an Illinois Democrat, said Thursday on TODAY. "I think it just redoubles our need to make sure that we are securing the homeland, executing the 911 Commission report, and that we are aggressive in terms of human intelligence, and really snuffing out these terrorist networks.”
Obama, who is seeking to become the first African-American nominee for president from a major political party, has called for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq by March 2008, which would be five years after the U.S. invaded the oil-rich Persian Gulf country and ousted the since-executed leader, Saddam Hussein.
“Unfortunately, we've become so focused on the situation in Iraq, that I think we have ended up being distracted, particularly in Afghanistan, in dealing with the very real kind of threats that we heard about today,” Obama said.
Referring to Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's remark that Obama's plan amounted to a “retreat,” Obama said McCain and others calling for troop surges in Iraq are threatening gains made when the U.S. ousted al-Qaida's terror training camp hosts in Afghanistan, the Taliban.
“Do you think we are prepared to deal with the kind of large-score plots that al-Qaida seems to favor?” TODAY host Meredith Vieira asked Obama.
“I think it is clear that we are not. Obviously, we've made some progress since 9/11. But if you look at what's happening in Afghanistan now, you are seeing the Taliban resurgent, you are seeing al-Qaida strengthen itself,” Obama said. “We have not followed through on the good starts we made in Afghanistan, partly because we took so many resources out and put them in Iraq. I think it is very important for us to begin a planned redeployment from Iraq, including targeting Afghanistan.”
Obama on Gonzales flap
Obama also commented on the flap over the Justice Department's firing of eight U.S. attorneys around the country. Democrats have charged that the firings were either politically motivated or retribution for their failure to carry out the Bush administration's wishes in political corruption investigations and prosecutions.
Obama, who accused Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of “subverting justice” as White House counsel, stopped short of calling for the official's resignation though his campaign has previously suggested Gonzales should be replaced by someone "who will serve as the people's lawyer."
“Obviously, we don't have all the facts. What I do know is that Attorney General Gonzales has had a tendency to inject politics into decision-making that should be guided by the public interest,” Obama said Thursday. “He is close to the president, and considers himself the president's lawyer, as opposed to the people's lawyer. I don't think that's an appropriate way to think about the Office of Attorney General.”
Gonzales, who has said that “mistakes” were made but he wants to remain in his post, told TODAY host Matt Lauer on Monday that the firings were performance-related. He denied that the terminations were political retribution, but said several times that the chief federal prosecutors in each district serve at the pleasure of the president.
— John Springer, TODAY contributor, and news reports